(February 2009: Click here for updates. Call or write Amazon's Kindle support for information on loaning Kindle. While at least one academic library is working WITH Amazon on a Kindle program, it appears that Amazon has not communicated uniformly with its employees about Kindle and libraries.)
(Update 2/8/08: Amazon says that the Kindle can be loaned as long as it doesn't have any books on it.)
(Update 1/28/08 5:20 pm: Someone left a comment saying that they had checked with Amazon and gotten a very different response than the one I got from customer service. Amazon!? Yeah, you! How about some clarification? Please read the comments, as some of them add to the discussion.)
(Update 1/30 10:50 am: I've submitted a request through Amazon Media Relations to get a definitive answer about Kindle, and to ask about any plans to work with libraries.)
(Update 1/31/08 8:38 am: Here is an earlier post, at LibraryLaw Blog, questioning what Kindle ToS meant for libraries.)
I've been reviewing the library's Kindle since it was placed in my hands last week. Most of the review has focused on the machine itself--features and usability. But today, I had some questions about the service itself, so I called the Kindle support line at Amazon and thought that this warranted a separate post.
Right around the time Kindle was released, I read the Terms of Service, curious to see if or how Kindle readers could be used in public libraries. My interpretation of the TOS said "NO,"
You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party
Shortly after the Kindle came out, I saw a few posts about libraries that were loaning the Kindle to patrons. I've been waiting for follow-up posts saying that Amazon had come down on those libraries for violating the ToS, but haven't seen anything.
This past weekend, I took our library's new Kindle home to test drive it, and found that it was very easy to add new content, via Amazon's 1-click order service. When I got to work this morning, my phone was ringing--it was our business manager asking if I had made purchases for the Kindle. When I said yes, she wondered how I was able to do it. Her assumption was that anyone else who played with the Kindle would have to enter Amazon/Kindle account information (email and password) to download new material. This made me further wonder how the libraries loaning it were able to keep borrowers from downloading stuff, so I called Kindle support.
I only had to wait a few seconds to get to a live person, and was immediately asked for my email address. Since I have an account with Amazon, my address was verified. I was then asked to answer my security questions before getting help with the Kindle presumably registered to me. At that point I interjected that I did not have a Kindle, but was reviewing one that was owned by my library and just had some basic questions. The support person was more than happy to take my general questions.
I explained that the library where I worked ordered one just to play around with, but that we had no plans to let patrons check it out, as I understood the ToS prohibited that sort of "distribution." When I asked for a definite answer, he verified that libraries who loaned the Kindle were violating the ToS.
That response more or less explained my second question, which was about how easy it was to download content. Since the Kindle is, legally, only supposed to be used by one user, the ordering/content-getting process was made as easy as possible. The support guy indicated that there was a way to prevent others from downloading, but I think it entails disabling your payment method in your Amazon account, which also prevents the owner from downloading content. My question is, what if you buy a Kindle and share it with your kids, but don't want them downloading stuff to the machine? It seems that there should be an easier way to be able to lock and unlock this feature. Or, does Amazon literally expect customers to adhere to their non-transferable ToS, even within a cohabiting family? Are we, as a library, in violation of the ToS, even though we're not loaning to patrons, but sharing the machine for educational purposes? Can we demo it to patrons at the desk or at library outreach events?
The questions I really wanted to ask, and which probably would not have received straight answers are: How hardcore will Amazon be about ToS violators? Will public libraries be getting cease and desist letters? Or is it more of a don't ask/don't tell deal? It's kind of hard to fly under the radar when you are applauded for innovation in Library Journal. If you have seen any stories about public libraries getting a smackdown from Amazon, please send along! (updated 1/29) Or, if you are in a library that circulates Kindles, please let us know how it's going and whether or not you had/have concerns about being able to circulate the machines.
The Kindle has no application for public libraries. (updated 1/29) Jury is out on whether Kindle can be circulated by libraries.